Message in a Bottle: PART THREE

In this third and final installment of the FFF video series, women discuss the subject of government policy/interventions involving breastfeeding. This is something I feel quite strongly about (shocker). While I definitely think the government can and should support initiatives that allow ALL parents (both male and female, lactating or not) adequate, paid parental leave, and also ensure that a woman’s right to breastfeed in public is absolutely, unequivocally protected, that is where I think their intrusions should end. Grassroots breastfeeding advocacy is one thing; having “Big Brother” all up in our cleavage is something else, entirely.

Luckily, the women I interviewed take a much more diplomatic stance, and some make great suggestions on what the government could do to help, if they are going to make how we feed our children a matter of the State. I’d love to hear if you guys have similar suggestions/ideas; things that either the powers-that-be, the medical community, or breastfeeding advocates could do to truly help women succeed in their breastfeeding goals. So go on with your bad selves and let’s start a revolution in the Comments section – maybe I’ll turn what pops up into a letter to the New York Times or the AAP or something. We can take bets on whether or not they’d take us seriously…

Message in a Bottle: Real Stories of Formula Feeding in America – PART 3 from Formula Feeder on Vimeo.

Message in a Bottle: PART TWO (and some updates)

I’ve been conspicuously absent from the blogosphere this past week. It’s Thursday, and I am just now posting Part 2 of Message in a Bottle: Real Stories of Formula Feeding in America. (You can see Part 1 here.) Embarrassing. I am a bad, bad blogger, and I think you guys deserve and explanation.

In the interest of honest, I’ve also been a bad, bad mommy; bad, bad pregnant lady; and bad, bad friend. My oldest and dearest friend’s wedding is this weekend, across the country in D.C.; not only was I supposed to be standing up for her, doing her makeup, and signing her Ketubah, but the plan was for me to go a few days early and be there for moral support. Unfortunately, last week, we went in for our 28 week checkup with the fetal diagnostic specialist (because FC with growth restricted and I had severely low fluid at the end of my pregnancy, we’re being monitored carefully this time), and he discovered a few cord abnormalities. Nothing serious yet, but things that up my chances for having complications or another growth restricted babe. I was put on modified bed rest (4 hours a day) and a plan to have growth ultrasounds every 2 weeks.

Then, the specialist told me not to travel. Pishaw, I said (silently, of course; this doctor is intimidating, and I wouldn’t want to cross him). I feel fine. I do medical research for a living, I read up on the risks, it’s no big deal. No way in hell am I missing my best friend’s wedding. I called my regular OB and she agreed with me, so I was all set to get on a plane this past Wednesday morning.

And then, because my life is one big example of Murphy’s Law, on Tuesday afternoon, I started bleeding and cramping.

After a panicky few hours in my OB’s office, the outcome was that FC#2 looks fine, and there was no apparent reason for what was happening. But because I was already “high risk” from the ultrasound findings, and bleeding/cramping in the third trimester is no joke, I was told I’d be a “stupid moron” (the OB’s exact words – she’s kind of a trip) to get on a plane.

Needless to say, I’ve been really, really bummed out about all of this. And more than a little stressed and worried about FC#2. It’s also (rather cruelly) brought it to my attention that I only have (at the most) 10 or so weeks before I’m in newborn, postpartum hell once again. Scary stuff, especially as I’m attempting to finish my book prior to baby girl’s arrival.

What does this have to do with you, or with formula feeding, or with the blog, for that matter? For one, I just want to apologize in advance if I’m not as on the ball for the next few months – I hope you’ll bear with me. I may be relying a bit more heavily on guest bloggers, or doing shorter posts, but I will be back in prime form as soon as I can be.

Secondly, I do think it it’s on-topic for the Message in a Bottle series. The underlying theme in all the interviews I conducted for this project was that despite your best laid plans, sh_t happens. It happens in pregnancy, and it happens in parenting. Our strength as parents and as people comes from rolling with the punches and adapting in the best way we can. Would I like to snap out of my little disappointment-related depression and take advantage of the bed rest to get more work done? Yes. That would be the responsible and practical thing to do. But this week, I was brain dead, just googling “placental abruptions” and scaring the heck out of myself. Eventually, I had to turn off the computer, ignore the blog, and do some pleasure reading (“The Anthropology of Breastfeeding” by Vanessa Maher…. fascinating read. I know, I’m a sick freak if this is what constitutes pleasure reading, but it’s really good…)

The women in Part 2 adapted beautifully to the challenges they faced – they did what they had to do to muddle through, and became stronger people and mothers because of it. I’m keeping them in my mind as inspiration right now, and I hope you guys will find them to be as rock-star as I do.

Message In a Bottle: Real Stories of Formula Feeding in America – PART 2 from Formula Feeder on Vimeo.

Message in a Bottle: PART ONE

As promised, here’s part one of the series.

This first “chapter” focuses on three different families and their individual, unique experiences. I chose these women because I think they run the gamut, even though two of the three had the commonality of premature babies. Kathryn and Amy’s son, Henry, was born at 31 weeks, but there were even further complications: he was also growth restricted, and Kathryn developed serious medical issues surrounding her pregnancy and birth. In Meghan’s case (which you can read about in yesterday’s FFF Friday), while her daughter was also technically preemie, the health reasons that ultimately led to her formula feeding were quite different.

The last woman interviewed in this initial piece, Sheila, is actually a breastfeeding mom, who found nursing to be a rewarding and positive experience – but she ended up supplementing with some formula due to her employment situation. She worked at a popular coffee chain, and I think this is the type of job we tend to forget about when talking about “workplace difficulty”. Service industry jobs are not like working at a plant, or a big corporation. Hourly wages are low in these positions, and servers depend on tips; also, small restaurants and coffee shops often don’t have the space to provide adequate pumping facilities (there was one bathroom at the tiny storefront Sheila worked at, and the only other space was a tiny, open kitchen area).

Anyway – I found these three stories compelling, especially as all three women are incredibly self-possessed and confident in their decisions. People often dismiss the need for formula feeding support by saying that guilt is a useless emotion; however, guilt is not a big part of these narratives. Instead, I think these stories exemplify the need for better support and acceptance of a wide variety of situations which may lead to a woman needing to (or wanting to) use formula.

I’ll stop blabbing now and let the video speak for itself:

Message in a Bottle: Real Stories of Formula Feeding in America – Part 1 from Formula Feeder on Vimeo.

Watch out for Parts 2&3 next week….

FFF Friday: “This isn’t when I felt guilty, this is when I felt angry.”

I have the pleasure of knowing FFF Meghan personally, and she is one of the “ballsiest”, most confident women I’ve ever met. If it weren’t for her and her advice, I think it would have taken us far longer to diagnose FC’s milk/soy protein intolerance (MSPI) – she was the one who recognized some of the same symptoms that she’d experienced with her daughter and suggested that I ask the pediatrician about it. She also helped me feel less alone when people stated, definitively, that babies “couldn’t be intolerant of mother’s milk”. Both Meghan and I know firsthand that this is one of the biggest falsehoods perpetuated on women (and babies) today, and I hope by hearing stories like ours that more research is done on MSPI in breastfed babies, rather than brushing it aside as “impossible” or a matter of us not cutting enough foods out of our diet (in both our cases, we were already restricting potentially offending foods even before we tried formal “elimination diets”.

The coolest thing about this FFF Friday is that you can actually hear Meghan talk about her experience in Part One of “Bottled Up: Real Stories of Formula Feeding in America”, which I’ll be premiering here on the blog tomorrow (Saturday) – so check back for that! She’s a spitfire and I think you’ll find her candid manner really refreshing – plus her daughter is ridiculously cute in the video.

I always planned to breastfeed. It was just something I wanted to do. I did not have any hang ups over it but would go to formula if needed, even just to supplement. My peers and family always have been the type to support whatever decisions I made. I had no reason to justify my decisions regarding feeding my child, and they never asked for it either. 
When registering for the baby shower, I remember picking out a cute “hooter hider,” looking at what kind of pump I’d want (and fretting over the cost of them!), nipple shields, storage bags, the works. I also looked into what type of bottles I wanted to use and which brand I thought would best suit my baby (I remember researching and deciding on BPA free).
My daughter, however, had much different plans then I did. She came 7 weeks early. Like most women I had a birth plan; mine certainly went out the window the second my water broke. Once my baby was born, she wasn’t laid on my chest, as I wanted; I didn’t get to breastfed her from the beginning. She was whisked away by the waiting NICU team to check her vitals, lungs, etc. I got a total of maybe 30 seconds with her before she was taken away to the NICU.
I was nervous, scared, you name it. I didn’t get to see her again until a hour or so later. There she was, perfect, serene and sleeping in her isolette. I was able to hold her and was just in awe of her beauty. My motherly bliss was short lived, because then came the anxiety of having a preemie in the hospital.
She had to have a feeding tube. Unlike mothers who birth full term babies and whom are present to feed their babies from the second they are born, I could not be there 24/7. Preemie feedings are regulated to a T. They must be aware of every CC they take in. Babies born before 36-37 weeks gestation usually do not have the “Suck, Swallow, Breathe” coordination as they were born too early to develop it. Hailey was born at 33 weeks and 3 days. She did not have this coordination and the NICU does not attempt regular feedings until at least 34-35 weeks. So the G-tube was her only source of nutrition along with the IV.
I remember the next morning as I was wheeled into the NICU, I was excited and anxious to see my baby. I was greeted immediately (more like hounded) by the neonatologist, wondering when I was going to provide breast milk. However, he phrased it like “you are going to breast feed aren’t you?” I was completely taken aback by this, and I remember feeling overwhelmed by it. I had just birthed my baby 7 weeks early, I had no idea when I could take her home or how she had done throughout the night, all I wanted to do was see her. I was planning to pump my breast milk, I just didn’t know why that was the first order of business – he didn’t even introduce himself. 
I learned the reason for his urgency later. Hailey wasn’t handling her feeds well, and they thought she would digest the breast milk more easily (I learned why she didn’t handle the formula they had given her later… something they didn’t even consider). I was given a long list of foods to avoid and set up with the hospital LC (lactation consultant). I remember watching the breast pump every second of the 10-15 minutes I pumped, hoping my milk would come in, especially since I was asked for it each time I visited the NICU. It finally came in 3 days later, full force!!
Hailey was diagnosed with Reflux at 2 days old. Also known as GERD. In her case, during her feeds and up to an hour afterwards, her heart rate and blood oxygen saturation levels would plummet. This is also referred to as Brady’s and D-stats. Basically, her food would start to come back up, pushing on her diaphragm and slowing her heart rate, sometimes dangerously low. The machines she was hooked up to would beep and scream each time.
My milk did come in and she was handling it much much better than the formula. While her reflux issues were not cured overnight (as breast milk is not the “cure” for this) she was improving with how much of her food she’d actually digest. The Brady’s and d-stat occurrences, however, did not improve. She also broke out with the most terrible, bleeding rash. I remember being greeted by a nurse with an accusing “what have you been eating that is burning your baby’s skin?” I was following all directions. I wasn’t eating anything from the list they gave me. They tried cream after cream, ointment after ointment. Hailey would scream with every diaper change. 
Feeding her was a challenge. She was bottle fed my breast milk starting around 34.5 weeks. Although this was gradual and started with ONE feeding a day (they fed her every 3 hours), this was difficult for her; she’d stop breathing and fall asleep. We had occupational therapists visit every other day and work with both her and me. She just couldn’t stay awake, nor could she go a minute or two without bradying or d-stating. We had to hold her upright in front of my body to help with her reflux and try to help her Bradys and d-stats reduce. I recall a specific time when trying to bottle feed her, she was not able to recover from one of these episodes. She turned a deeper shade of blue than I had usually seen during these episodes and the amount of stimulation I gave her to come out of it was not working. Her machines screamed louder than usual, the nurse ripped her from my arms and put the oxygen mask on her as she did something I could not see. I panicked.

I saw my tiny infant turn blue more times in the first 4 weeks of her life than the average parent would in their entire lifetime.
Actual breastfeeding wasn’t pushed at this time by the neonatologist and nurses. As a matter of fact, it was hardly brought up. A few times during Kangaroo Care, I ‘d attempt it, only for her to scream and then brady/d-stat. Therefore, I didn’t push it either. The OT talked about going at her own pace in order to prevent a nipple aversion which could essentially cause her to stop eating completely. In this case, she would have to be primarily tube-fed and wouldn’t be able to come home for much longer.
Breastfeeding is done with the infant in a laying down position; with Hailey’s reflux and her brady/d-stat issues made this difficult. I couldn’t exactly breastfeed with her upright. I committed myself to exclusively pumping. I wasn’t going to put my child through that just so she could get her milk from my breast. In my mind, she was getting my milk in a bottle and that is just as good as her getting it straight from the source. I dropped all attempts to have her feed from my breast. I had no reservations about this. I wasn’t about to have her return to the hospital, hooked up to those machines, inserted with the g-tube AGAIN from me creating an aversion from pushing it. I concentrated on her being able to take in an entire feed on her own, without falling asleep and without any brady/d-stats. I wanting my baby HOME.
Hailey made tremendous strides after this. She came home 2 days shy of her 1 month birthday. She had been in the NICU for 4 weeks and 1 day (29 days). Her homecoming was the best news I could get.


Hailey came out on an apnea monitor. Her bradys and d-stats still occurred enough for the neonatologist to insist on it. She was to be hooked up to it while eating, sleeping, car rides or any time we were not right there to see when she was having an episode. We were instructed to continue feeding her upright and to keep her upright up to 30 minutes after her feds (all for her reflux). I rented a hospital grade pump, since EP-ing was what I committed to. Hailey was also to have a home nurse visit 3 times a week to administer epogen shots. Her iron levels were extremely low (which caused her to fall asleep so much, she didn’t have the energy to stay awake and eat).
One thing that also continued past her release, was her horrid diaper rashes. Just when I thought it was clearing, another would come… with a vengeance. I noticed once she hit her due date, she became increasingly fussy. She would cry all day long off and on. This wasn’t the typical colic where she’d cry all night long, she cried throughout the day too. I did everything I could comfort her. Between the constant fussiness, the need to pump every 3 hours (as my baby screamed the whole time), balancing the nurse visits, administering her reflux meds every 4 or 6 hours depending on the med, and fighting a diaper rash, I was exhausted.
I remember on my 27th birthday, Hailey cried practically the entire time. She was hard to comfort. Here was her first family event and she was fussy. She was happy while she ate but screamed off and on afterwards. On Halloween, I stopped my mom’s house with Hailey dressed as a bumble bee. She was fussy all day long and even as we got there. I sat on her couch and felt defected. I told my mom she cries all the time and I do not understand why she wasn’t a happy baby. I wondered what I was doing wrong.
Eventually came the blood-laced diapers. At first, the pedi wasn’t as concerned, however, when I called after hours with a blood-filled diaper and a screaming baby in the background, she wanted me to take her in the next day.
At this appointment, she held Hailey in her arms, bouncing and swaying. Hailey would tense up and cry, then relax, tense up and cry, then relax. She referred me to a Gastroenterologist thinking maybe he would be able to workout her reflux issues. She also stated for me to try a hypo-allergenic formula called Nutramigen. She suspected a milk & soy protein allergy. Since I wasn’t eating dairy, she feared Hailey could be allergic to the proteins present in my breast milk; this was rare, but possible.
After ONE WEEK (typical time it takes to adjust) of using this extremely expensive formula, I saw a brand new baby. She was happy for more than 5 minutes. She rarely fussed other then when she was wet or hungry or for her reflux issues. I think I cried when I realized what I had been doing to her all this time. Feeding something to her that caused her pain. I didn’t even want to think about what it did to her to cause bloody poop.
The GI doc agreed with the allergy and told me to continue feeding her the formula. We were prescribed different meds to help with her reflux. I felt like a stepped into a new world! A world with a happier baby and a less stressed me!! I saw my baby happy. I ditched the pump and never looked back.
I felt NO GUILT about switching to formula. That is until I realized what backlash accompanied it. The stuff I was reading about poisoning my baby, making my baby fat, lowering her IQ, having my baby’s only food source compared to feeding her pizza & Cheetos. This isn’t when I felt guilty, this is when I felt angry. I felt judged. I was considered a bad mother who was lazy and didn’t try hard enough. WHAT??
Walk a day in my shoes, and you would have made the exact same decision. I had 2 doctor’s supporting me, one who is a HUGE breast feeding advocate (my pedi). My preemie baby was considered “caught up” to her actual age before the ago of 2 when this typically happens with most preemies. She’s healthy, thriving and happy. And in the end this is all that matters. I do not regret my decision.
Will I breast fed my next child? Of course, I will give it try. I am still a huge breast feeding supporter and always will be. I am also a formula-feeding supporter and always will be. I have never been otherwise and my story doesn’t change any of that. However, if my next experience also turns out to be unsuccessful, I won’t hesitate to move to formula feeding.
If and when you’re ready to share your own FFF story, I’d love to post it. Simply email me at

Message In a Bottle: Real Stories of Formula Feeding in America

I’ve been working on a few FFF-related projects lately, one of which being a little documentary-style video series which is basically a film version of FFF Fridays, with a bit of my own opinion thrown in for good measure. It’s also my attempt at a measured response (even though the kid in me, like that old cereal commercial says,  would really prefer the frosted deliciousness of a more petulant response) to the upcoming “Formula Fed America”, which I fear is just more one-sided, anti-formula propaganda, completely ignoring the very real experiences of moms like the ones featured in the following videos.

I’m hoping the film medium will bring a new audience to the discussion, so feel free to spread this around the Interwebz if you like it. I apologize in advance for the cheesy music; this was a low-budget project and I fell mercy to the high cost of licensing… just pretend you’re in the early 1990’s and get down with the synthesizer. If you go with it, it’ll be less jarring. Hopefully. God help us all.

Anyway – the original intent was to make one cohesive video, but it turned out much longer than I’d intended, and far lengthier than is “appropriate” for online viewing. Therefore, I split it up into a series of three shorter videos, and also made a short, 9-minute “trailer” or “synopsis” version for those of you with limited time. You can the trailer below – or follow the link to Vimeo, where you can watch it in fullscreen mode.

I encourage you to watch the actual series, though; the women interviewed are truly phenomenal and I think you’ll find it well worth the time to hear their stories and opinions. I’ll be releasing a new “chapter” every few days; today, I’m giving you the trailer, and over the weekend, I’ll put up Part One, which includes detailed personal accounts from three different families. Part Two (coming next week) opens up the discussion with a few more amazing women and tackles topics like peer pressure, advice from the medical establishment, and guilt. Part Three (also available next week) focuses on the political/social side of the debate.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the series. Two of our FFFs are involved – Megan and Meghan – and I’ll be posting a FFF Friday from the latter tomorrow to compliment the release of Part One (which will be up the following day).

Bracing myself for the sh_tstorm to come…



Message In A Bottle: Real Stories of Formula Feeding in America TRAILER from Formula Feeder on Vimeo.

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